It’s 2009. The full effects of global warming have not fully manifested themselves and the concept of a clown US President is just a fit of fantasy. I’m driving around in a new Toyota Prado GXL 3.0 Turbo. I tried this out because I had had, in a previous life in Thailand, a good run from a Toyota Fortuner 3.0 Turbo. This beastie performed flawlessly over a four year period.
But this is Australia, Western Australia, the land of endless beaches, glorious outback sojourns, bugger all water (unless you’re in a lucky place, somewhere….. or it’s been raining.) and lots of places to actually go off road. The Prado is excellent, but really cannot pull a hot sausage of a greasy plate. This was splashed in my face no more than at Warren Beach trying to get up a large dune and struggling without letting down my tries to about 10psi. I witnessed a Toyota Prado 4.0 petrol blasting up past me and disappearing. I was not happy!
So I started the process of selection.
I was a fully licensed, indoctrinated, evangelistic member of the “We Drive Diesel in the Outback” cult of stupid. Fortunately in this club, it’s well stocked with confirmation bias in terms of anecdotal experiences and in the multitudinous off road marketing mediums. There’s never any lack of people to give you advice and vehicles to buy. In 2017 the market is much more mature with even more options. I often wonder what I’d do now if I was starting afresh. (Actually, we now know..lol)
So where did one go?
Toyota offered up the Hilux, Prado, Troopy and the relatively new 200 series. Nissan had the god awful 3.0 litre and “ok” 4.2 optioned Patrols (I was Toyota-fied at this juncture to a certain degree. I had driven a Nissan Pathfinder around for a while, it was OK), and there was a Pajero from Mitsubishi and the many utes (of which I was not a contender for). I wanted big for all my gear and my (then) roof top tent. I’ve always had a fridge and lots of different gear I like to drag around with me. In the early days I kept it to the “absolute necessary”, but failed later with the bloat of “glamping” often weighing us all down.
My initial view was that I was to go with a Toyota Troop Carrier, with modifications to allow me to make it “Trakka” like (when they used to do 4wd modified vehicles). I went down this path to be stopped at the “let’s do it” phase by the Mrs who said “I cannot and will not drive a manual”. Well this then set the cat amongst the pigeons. No manual…… damn…… So I again went to the space I knew, Toyota. I had owned Landcruisers in the past from my 1972 SWB 5.0L V8 (err, slightly modified J ) to the 80 Series GXL I bought new in 1999. I looked at the latest 200 series that was then a couple of years in to its current reign. It was a no brainer really. Next step the purchase. I could write a lot about this process, but I can say, based on the recommendation of my Finance Man I went for a broker (who is now my broker friend after 6 cars for me and others) and he saved me at least $10K on the retail.
Sahara #1 was a pretty standard beast. Just a bar, winch and spotties. Certainly, driving in Outback anywhere you need your lights. That’s my view, anyways. This one just went and went. No issues. She was a little easy to get stuck for some reason, but we never wanted for grunt or ability. Just get the tire pressures low low low in the sand I found. The rake meant that it was a little front heavy under brakes, but I hardly ever pushed them in anger. But the lessons from this car were put into the next one, with interest. We travelled all over WA in this beauty. It’s first trip was from the dealer in NSW to WA. 4,000kms as a warm up trip. Wonderful!! (This is a consistent theme in this story).
By 2012 I was changing things up in my life and I went through the process of thing about whether I upgrade this one or I go for a new one and makes the changes to that. This caused lots of hand wringing but in the end I went for Sahara #2
Sahara #2 was known as the 200 that fell in an ARB Parts bin. It had ARB suspension, ARB Bar, A Rear Bar with a Wheel on it. I went for Walker Evans Rims (Faux bead lockers), Aggressive ProComp wheels (noisy AF!!), A full chip and exhaust upgrade (the details fail me, but I’ll update if necessary), a Radio (of course) and some other stuff that I cannot remember. It was the ducks nuts!! It really went hard also. This one made Sahara #1 seem a little agricultural. Now this Sahara had a back story from day 1. On the way over from Sydney (Yes, I got this from the same broker. The Savings went into the parts bin… haha) we had a few issues with it starting. Just once or twice. Never really gave it much thought at 5am when it happened. I was back in Perth for a month or so and decided to head out to Wilbinga (a spot that will not exist for long as the inevitable urban sprawl heads for it) for a bit of dune bashing. We were on our way out when it goes into safe mode and the dashboard lights up like a Christmas tree. Thank god we’d past any tricky stuff and the track was relatively easy to extract ourselves from. We turned it off and, on a few times, and then waited with it off. It fired up and we were on our way again. It happened again around town once or twice and we were not close to understanding the issue. I have a real problem with an unreliable vehicle, so I was getting a tad pissed off at this stage. Then it failed completely one day when I was picking it up after putting some cool security tint on it. I called Toyota and they sent a rescue truck for it. I get a call the next day and they inform me it’s got blown injectors and the look for the chip had shorted out due to a bad install and it was going to cost 000’s to fix it. They were pro-active and had called the supplier in NSW who had acknowledged that this was their issue and they authorised Toyota to fix it on their tab. Toyota ripped out the chip and its loom etc, replaced all the injectors and got it up and pumping again. The Vendor then got me an appointment at United Fuel injection who replaced the chip and installed it properly, again on the vendors dime. It was alive again. Around about this time I had the epiphany that I’d buy a super duper inter-cooler and put a big scoop on the bonnet. This was going to give me cooler air in volume for the extra grunt the chip was giving me. Now from the outside it looked amazing (later the installed told me that my car had prompted many more of these to be done once it had been spotted on the roads and tracks around Perth) but the install was sloppy, the piping and tubes would often come off (safe mode again) and the hole they made in the bonnet was brutal (from the inside view) at best. I took it to two custom car modifiers to try and fix it but it always looked like someone had used a tin opener to make the hole. Caveat emptor – don’t be the first one in WA to try something on your 4wd (which is a lesson I took on board later with the Y62)
Now for the real problems I had……
Those in WA will know the beach from Tim’s Thicket down to the Bunbury gap. It’s many miles of wonderful beach, no people (relatively) and there are pockets of great dunes to fang up and down on. I was down there one summers day and was experimenting with the various options the Sahara has for crawling along and getting out of the rough stuff. One of these modes you set it and it has a dial where you dial in the speed and the computer deals with the wheels, slippage and that kind of malarkey. We were getting ourselves stuck on purpose and then using the crawl mode to get ourselves out. Pretty standard stuff. Unknown to me, I was overheating the transmission and I ended up cooking the fluid somehow. The beast went into safe mode and wouldn’t go again until it had cooled down. Now we know (we thought) what to look for and checked out the loom, the chip and the electrical connections. All good….. damn! Well, we limped out along the beach (we were only about 5kms down from the Leschenault Peninsula entrance to the beach). As soon as we were on tarmac, the temperatures did not rise, no stress on the transmission, so it was all good. This happened one more time and I took it to Toyota for a check-up and they diagnosed the transmission fluid. We got the fluid transfusion and it seemed OK after this but I never felt 100% that it was trustworthy after that. It always went fine, but in the back of my mind, this should have been a gem, but it never was, not after the issues that it had given me. Now they might have been self-inflicted by all the mods, but I’m not convinced…
It’s 2012 and a friend wants to buy a new Sahara. It seemed like a good time for a change and I could take the lessons from Sahara #2 into Sahara #3
This purchase was a little different from the other two. We were buying two cars and the broker was able to do the same deal in WA. So we didn’t have to fly to Sydney and bring them back. I then proceeded to start modifying this one but without a chip or intercooler. I added a scan gauge to monitor the transmission closely and found that this one two could get hot really easily in the sand and that you had to exclusively use low range to make sure it stayed at a reasonable level. This one had an extra fuel filter to stop the pesky “change your fuel filter” message every 10,000kms or when an outback fuel station gave you dodgy fuel (happens often here), diff and transmission breather kits (billet), BP52 suspension, super duper air filter, a full replacement loom for all the wiring and shit in the back, replaced batteries, my old walker evans rims now with 295 nittos, a radio (haha) and led spotties. I bought billet UCA’s, dropped the diffs, changed the exhaust and generally thrashed it around the place.
This was a gooooooood wagon.
It’s now 2015 and I am feeling the need for change
Now the debate around the Nissan Patrol, the Y62 had been raging around our fireplaces, cigar nights and get togethers for an age. I had a friend who was saying “you know this fuel thing is a pile of shit given the $30K discount you get over a Sahara” and he was pooh-poohed all the way to “sod off-ville” on many occasions. But he was insistent and consistent (and also a Sahara owner) so the conversations were always lively.
The swinging factor was the article that came up showing a supercharger option. If you’ve read the rest of this, you will know how I roll in this space. It tipped the argument over on its face. There’s no way you could get a Sahara to this level of performance, even if you tipped it out of a transport plane.
Now the next saga began…. The story of the Supercharger and how I made it legal on a Y62…….